Main content

10 things I learnt about being single by Sadia Azmat

From Sunday 7 to Sunday 14 July, the BBC's Faith In The World week celebrates being single, with programmes and features across BBC Radio 2, BBC Local Radio, and BBC Breakfast.

More and more of us are living the single life in the UK, and loving it. Around 40% of Brits are single, and the trend is increasing in every age group. (Source: Office of National Statistics & YouGov)

In Radio 2's My Single Life, as part of the BBC's Faith In The World week, Sadia Azmat, comedian and co-host of BBC Sounds podcast No Country For Young Women is on a mission to find out whether she can be happy and single.

"After being single for nearly 10 years I thought I knew it all, so I was really surprised by the things I discovered," she reveals, "We’ve all been single at some point or know someone who is - and the conversations tend to be ‘When are you going to get married’? ‘Why haven’t you met someone’? ‘He’s out there’."

Meeting a varied spectrum of people who are single, Sadia highlights below the 10 things she learnt about being single...

1. You are not alone

According to the Single Friendly Church, around 40% of Brits are single including those who have never married or are widowed, divorced and separated. This excludes those cohabiting who are living together as married.

This is such a large proportion of the population that the statistic itself makes me feel less alone! The urge to be with someone is natural and completely understandable, but there are times in our lives where we will be by ourselves. So much of society is geared towards couples and families, whether it’s restaurants or package holidays. But maybe there will start to be a shift in society’s acceptance of singlehood.

The number of single people is increasing in every age group – more people are choosing to stay single, people are marrying later, more people are divorcing and because we are living longer, more are being widowed. What I learned from the documentary is how little we can be prepared for this, especially with the constant pressure to be in a relationship.

2. Being single prepares you for old age

Marrying someone to avoid dying alone shouldn’t be a motivation for a relationship. I spoke to sociologist Aurel Diamond from the Hebrew University. He was the research assistant for the book ‘Happy Singlehood – The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living’ written by Elyakim Kislev. They have been studying singles and the reasons people get into relationships and found that happiness isn’t dependent on your relationship status.

...happiness isn’t dependent on your relationship status.

Single people can actually be happier than married people, he explained, because ‘the longer you have been single the better you are at it’. Through forging well-defined social networks, and having lots of friends and family around, single people are used to preventing loneliness.

3. Be still my beating heart

Poorna Bell

Sadia chats to journalist Poorna Bell who was widowed when she was just in her 30's.

I always thought that a good coping mechanism for being single was to keep busy. So it was really refreshing chatting to journalist Poorna Bell who after becoming a widow in her 30s, quit her job and went travelling alone. She highlighted that sometimes the input from family and friends about your life choices can become overwhelming and that she actually relishes the silent moments. Whilst it is great to have an active lifestyle, after speaking with Poorna, I began to appreciate the benefits of having some quiet alone time and can see that it is a good part of self-care and reconnecting with ourselves.

4. Don't settle

Salma El Wardany

Sadia chats to Salma El Wardany, a poet, feminist and public speaker.

As time goes on, people can feel an urgency to get into a relationship as it’s seen as something you ‘should do’. As a young Muslim, I’ve spent a lot of my life doing the opposite - trying to avoid a traditional arranged marriage. My friend Salma El-Wardany, a poet, public speaker and feminist, shares my experience of being a young, single Muslim, and she reinforced the importance of not settling for the sake of it.

Like Salma, I would rather be alone than unhappy - stuck in a relationship out of convenience that lacks love and chemistry. I think being clear about what you want and honest about how you are feeling will help you make decisions that are worthwhile.

5. There’s nothing wrong with you

I visited the Single Friendly Church and met with the founder Jackie Elton and campaign manager Beth Collingridge. It's an organisation that helps churches to be more inclusive of single people, which showed me that things are changing. Jackie was really inspiring and she helped me realise that there’s nothing unusual about being single. Whilst there can be a stigma around it, the work they are doing gives me hope that attitudes will change.

Beth also emphasised that there are simply fewer men to go around, which is exactly the same within the Islamic community. Again, this reaffirms there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with me, its economics!

6. The F-word

No not that - friends!

No not that - friends! The guests I spoke with all sang the praises of their friends and the importance of social networks. Good friends support each other through difficult situations and can be relied upon in times of need. Salma El-Wardany actually told me that she has such a healthy and balanced relationship with her friends that she was able to tell them they couldn’t go with her on her solo holiday over Christmas and New Year.

7. Spend time with yourself

Most of the people I met told me they spend time doing the things they enjoy and encouraged me to enjoy experiences by myself. Salma El-Wardany said it's important to spend time with yourself, “I love my alone time, spending time at the weekends in my house by myself, reading writing self-care.” She dines out alone and loves quality time - this was completely new to me. I never dine out myself or go on holidays on my own. It opened my eyes to a fresh perspective on single life.

8. Loneliness affects us all

Visiting the Priest’s training college in Sutton Coldfield was a new insight for me. It helped me appreciate the greater sacrifice that Catholic priests make promising to be celibate, compared with bachelors/bachelorettes. Speaking with Father Paul, he said he had thankfully had 16 happy years as a Priest. Pascal and Henry, who were training to become priests, echoed the idea that celibacy was a gift and a way of being able to help them give back to those who need it.

The truth is loneliness is something that affects us all irrespective of being in a relationship. I think loneliness can be helpful in identifying things we can improve or adjust for a deeper sense of happiness and contentment.

Sadia visits a St Mary's Oscott - a Priest's training college.

Sadia discusses the vow of celibacy with Father Paul Keane.

9. You are in charge of your happiness

As part of the documentary, I tried therapy. I had heard of Couples Therapy, so wanted to give ‘singles therapy’ a go. Anna Albright, a Cognitive Behaviourial Therapist, explained to me that ‘being in a relationship is only one aspect of your existence’. She emphasised the importance of doing things you enjoy, because these things will lead to happiness whether you are in a relationship or not.

Whilst some people take up a hobby to be sociable and find friends or a potential partner; I learnt a lot of my interests (like playing the piano) are solitary. My session also highlighted in certain situations I have a tendency to be avoidant of taking risks, so it was useful to be conscious of this in future.

10. For better or worse

Throughout the documentary, a recurring point around whether to pursue a relationship was whether it would be something that ‘adds value’ to your life. Giving up singleness isn’t easy. Being single frees up time to devote to yourself and the things you want to achieve. In my case I’m able to focus on things I love like my career and performing stand-up comedy in the evenings.

So it’s worth making sure that you are entering into something that is worth the sacrifice and will be a better match than the world you have built for yourself.

Like us on Facebook, on Instagram at bbcradio2, or follow us on Twitter @BBCRadio2

Listen to Radio 2 on BBC Sounds, or find out other ways you can listen.

Faith In The World Week: Being Single - more from Radio 2